Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Who is John Oliver?

Compliments of the BC archives, here is a photo of our 19th premier, John Oliver. This photo was taken in the 1920s.
John Oliver was born on July 31, 1856 in Hartington, England. He was the eldest son of eight children born to Robert Oliver and Emma Lomas.

Oliver grew up in a modest farming community. His family eked out a living from the land and John left school at the age of 11 to work in a local lead mine. A few years later, the mine closed and the Oliver family immigrated to Canada. They settled on a farm in Maryborough Township, Ontario in 1870.

In 1875, Emma contracted rheumatic fever and died. This seems to have unnerved the family since members began to leave the farm. John stayed in the vicinity for over a year before deciding, at the age of 20, to head west. On May 5, 1877, our future premier arrived in Victoria, looking for work. He found it working on the mainland for the Canadian Pacific Railway. After a summer of hard labour, he had saved enough money to start a farm so he pre-empted land in Surrey.

Oliver worked hard to clear the land and build a cabin. However, he was also drawn into community affairs. He helped to establish a rural school and petition the provincial government to provide assistance with building roads in the new community. 

By the age of 26, he was appointed clerk of the municipality. He also served as tax collector and general functionary. In the fall of 1882, he resigned all these positions, sold his land and purchased a farm in Delta.

Four years later, he married the daughter of the local postmaster, Elizabeth Woodward. Together, they had five sons and three daughters and developed one of the most prosperous farms in the region. Even while doing that. John found time to be active in municipal affairs in Delta. He became a school trustee and a few years later, he was elected to the municipal council where he served two years as reeve. (And people today say they are too busy, don't have any time. Can you imagine how busy this couple must have been?)
John loved rural life but he had his sights set on higher public office. At the age of 43, he took a long-contemplated step into provincial politics and ran in the 1900 election. 

This was the era before political parties and the political arena was tumultuous. As we have seen when I discussed previous premiers. Joseph Martin took office on February 28 and he had little support. In a surprise move, Oliver threw his support behind the premier and campaigned aggressively in the Westminster-Delta area. Even though on June 9 the Martin party went down in a devastating defeat, Oliver had his first political triumph and won his seat.
British Columbia's politics was a rough place to be and Oliver's introduction was neither kind nor gentle. He was a plain spoken, rough-hewn man who others considered a hayseed. His more urbane and experienced members of the assembly derided his unsophisticated clothes, heavy boots and often crude use of the English language. In 1905, the Victoria Week described the politician as "a good farmer and a weak politician, given to long-winded and very ungrammatical attacks upon anyone who does not agree with him."

This criticism didn't dampen Oliver's enthusiasm though. He was determined to show that an ordinary man could contribute to the democratic process. He studied parliamentary procedure and, over time, made the transition from municipal politics to provincial. John carefully chose the causes that he championed in the assembly.
I want to thank the Dictionary of Canadian Biography website for the information on John Oliver.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

, , , , , , ,


  1. Your pictures are as amazing as your story.

    1. Thank you Lee. Believe it or not, these were all taken with my phone camera.